A learning experience…
I’ve always favored the look of the Curtiss P-40, indeed made several nice scale models of it in the past, because it is such a pretty aircraft. But I confess that, probably like a lot of aviation buffs, I didn’t know it quite so well as I did the more glamorous Allied Second World War types such as the Mustang, Spitfire and B-17.
Which means I found myself buying quite a few reference books on the P-40 and its pilots, in order to be able to comment knowledgeably enough about it to give this add-on a fair review. So if you thought reviewing FS add-ons was all about getting stuff for free, think again! As such, it was certainly an education in writing this piece, and a very pleasant and surprising education too; one which went far beyond the usual P-40 half-truths of poor high altitude performance and playing second fiddle to the P-51 and P-47.
If you know less about this particular aircraft than you do about the ‘A list’ WW2 fighters, read on, for in addition to testing Shockwave’s P-40, we’ll learn more about what turns out to be a lot better aircraft than most people give it credit for.
A little bit about the developers
Shockwave Productions specialize in producing add-on military aircraft for Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, although that’s certainly not all they do. You’ll find they make stuff for Combat Flight Simulator too, in addition to which, Shockwave is home to the revamped Battle of Britain II combat flight sim (formerly the Empire Interactive/Rowan title, Battle of Britain).
So this developer certainly knows about combat aircraft add-ons, and that genre is ever-widening too with Shockwave recently announcing that they are producing a ‘Flying Tigers’ simulation which concentrates on the American Volunteer Group’s endeavors in China and Burma. Such a release would of course, have to include a P-40, consequently, this particular add-on for FSX takes on a greater significance for flight sims at large.
The development work for this FSX incarnation will doubtless do double duty in preparation for that endeavor, and Shockwave have a Mitsubishi A6M for FSX in the pipeline too, probably for similar reasons. If you hanker after being a virtual Flying Tiger or Imperial Japanese pilot, Shockwave might well turn out to be your favorite developer.
On top of all that, Shockwave occasionally likes to push things as far as innovation for FSX goes, as evidenced by their recent 3D Lights add-on, a version of which finds itself on this P-40 for FSX.
A potted history of the real P-40’s birth…
The P-40 has its roots in a 1935 US Army competition for manufacturers to produce a pursuit aircraft (fighter). This was a time when debate raged furiously over whether it was wiser to favor the rugged simplicity of air-cooled radial engines, or the sleeker but more complex and ‘combat vulnerable’ water-cooled inline powerplants. Curtiss fielded the radial-engined prototype Model 75 ‘Hawk’, its rivals being the Severensky SEV-1XP and the Northrop 3A.
The Northrop 3A disappeared on its first flight while out over the Pacific and it is unknown what happened to it, this effectively ruled Northrop out of the competition, making it a two-horse race. The Severensky offering was damaged during delivery to Wright Field for its evaluation, but was allowed time to be repaired before the fly-off. Having seen the competition, when ‘repairing’ it, Severensky sneakily changed the previously fixed landing gear for a retractable one and deleted the second seat it had originally sported. Needless to say, Curtiss protested about this and the competition was further delayed until early 1936.
Curtiss took this spare time to shoehorn a much more powerful radial engine into their Model 75 but it was to no avail, the US Army selected the Severensky prototype as the winner. This became the P-35, winning Severensky an order to produce 77 aircraft. In consolation however, the US Army did order three Curtiss Hawk 75Bs, demanding that they be powered by the same type of engine as the one in the Severensky P-35 (a Pratt and Whitney R-1830-13), this Curtiss model becoming the YIP-36. Fortuitously for Curtiss, the P-36 eventually became the favored choice over the P-35, and accordingly, an order for 210 of these was forthcoming in 1937.
In export form, as the Hawk/Mohawk 75C (with a more powerful R-1830-17) large numbers of this aircraft served in France early in the Second World War, but it was outclassed by the Luftwaffe’s bf109, and largely served to give the German pilots an opportunity to rack up their scores. Ironically enough, when RAF pilots first began encountering the Focke-Wulf 190, they reported that the Luftwaffe were fielding an amazing new radial-engined fighter plane far superior to the Spitfire. RAF intelligence initially attempted to explain away these claims by suggesting that their pilots were likely to be encountering old ex-French Air Force Hawk 75Cs pressed into service by the Luftwaffe!
Whilst unfortunate for the French Air Force pilots of the Hawk 75, the feedback gained from it’s poor combat debut highlighted the P-36’s shortcomings. Accordingly, the Curtiss team decided to try marrying a 12-cylinder water-cooled inline engine to the P-36 airframe, and this was indeed done with an Allison V-1710 12-cylinder powerplant, resulting in the XP-37, of which, the US Army ordered 13 for service trials. Unfortunately, in fitting the big Allison engine, the airframe had to be radically altered, one of these alterations manifesting itself in the cockpit being moved back well behind the main wings, making it look like a sleek racing aircraft, but affording dismal visibility for the pilot. This and other drawbacks meant that the US Army ordered no more.
However, all was not lost, extensive wind tunnel testing yielded a raft of recommendations, resulting in another radical redesign, and this was so different that it warranted a new designation. It was this aircraft which evolved into being the XP-40, and although not exactly identical to the production P-40, it was the genesis of that aircraft, one which so impressed the US Army that they ordered 524 of them. At that time this was the largest single order ever placed for a pursuit aircraft by any nation.
P-40, Warhawk, Tomahawk and Kittyhawk - which one is which?
The P-40 saw a huge variety of models produced, and the designations and names can sometimes be confusing, so to help us out, here’s an explanation…
The original P-40 received the designation P-40CU (CU simply referring to Curtiss) but after 200 of this model had been delivered, the deal was re-negotiated with improved versions completing the order. These featured additional guns in the wings, self-sealing tanks and armor plating, plus a better gunsight. Referred to as P-40Bs or P-40Cs, the changes reduced the internal fuel capacity, so provision was made for carrying an external centerline drop tank.
In US service, this aircraft was the named the Warhawk, while in export form (primarily to the RAF) it was named the Tomahawk I just to confuse matters! When in improved B/C form, the RAF called it the Tomahawk II; occasionally the suffix A or B was added to the I or II designation to denote internal equipment, thus you get things like the Tomahawk IIB.
There was only one P-40A, it being a photo reconnaissance modification prototype. Uprated and improved variants of earlier models with the extra guns added to them were referred to as P-40Gs, these later being re-designated again, this time as RP-40Gs (the R meaning ‘restricted from combat use’ since they lacked armor and self-sealing tanks).
The first major redesign came with the P-40D. Although it looks very similar to the earlier P-40, almost every bit of it was redesigned in some way; careful observation reveals the D model has a less tapered rear fuselage and redesigned wing, the canopy looks a little different on the D model too. Probably the most noticeable difference however is the deletion of the cowling guns and the redesigned front end, which has the effect of making the air intake look deeper. Just to confuse matters further, the RAF decided to rename this model the Kittyhawk I.
Next you have the E model (Kittyhawk IA in the RAF), the main difference here being six rather than four guns in the wings and different ‘fishtail’ exhaust stacks which improved thrust a little. Then comes the F version, with a (Packard built) Merlin engine shoehorned into it resulting in another redesign of the nose, it losing the upper air intake, the RAF named this model the Kittyhawk II. This proved slightly unstable in flight and so later versions had the rear fuselage lengthened by twenty inches, thus, the ‘long-tailed P-40’ variants were born. Model P-40Fs re-engined with the Allison powerplant were designated the P-40R.
Then came the P-40K, which simply had a more powerful Allison engine installed, again the RAF renamed this one, it becoming the Kittyhawk III. Meanwhile Curtiss attempted to reduce the weight of the Merlin-engined variants and these were designated the P-40L. The P-40M was yet another variant with a more powerful Allison engine and the long tail airframe; these can be spotted by the addition of a perforated vent in front of the exhaust stacks to provide an extra air source.
Lastly, we have the P-40N. This was another attempt to lighten the aircraft and was basically a P-40M with some weight-saving measures, such as alloy parts, rather than brass, and the deletion of a starter battery. Some M versions also featured a revised canopy frame, one which sloped a little forward, the RAF called this variant the Kittyhawk IV. All other variants after this were merely prototypes and experimental aircraft rather than models produced in large numbers. Some of these looked radically different, almost like a cross between the P-47 Thunderbolt and the P-51 Mustang, but by the time these were coming along, the military were getting interested in jet aircraft and so development ceased.
For an aircraft that has something of a (undeserved) reputation as being a second class citizen amongst WW2 fighters, the P-40 does have some notable claims to fame. It remained in continuous production from 1939 to 1944, with 13,737 aircraft being built (some sources claim 16,802 were built). These served in almost every theatre of the war too, and despite the aircraft’s poor reputation at high altitude in theatres where this was not so important, the P-40 did very well indeed and it was not completely outclassed by the bf109 as many people believe. It also featured a notable first among fighter planes, in having a retractable tail wheel from the outset, something that the first bf109s and Spitfires lacked. It was also the first ever US Army aircraft to take off from an aircraft carrier.
But perhaps most ironic of all, the P-40 was indirectly responsible for the birth of the aircraft which did so much to overshadow it – the P-51 Mustang. North American offered to design the RAF a completely new aircraft instead of license-building the P-40 for them as Britain had originally requested, Britain agreed, and that aircraft (originally named the Apache) became the Mustang.
So now we know a bit about the real thing, let’s check out the one that Shockwave have brought us…
The download file for the Shockwave P-40 weighs in at a reasonably compact 72.6Mb as a zipped file (the Shockwave website says 78Mb however). Unzip this, and upon installation - which is a simple double click on the icon affair – you end up with 164.5Mb of stuff on your hard drive. This comprises four flyable P-40s in FSX and a 36-page pdf manual, accessible via either the Windows start menu, or by finding it in your FSX folder.
Assuming you are one of those people who actually reads the manual before zipping off into the wide blue yonder - this is your first clue as to the level of detail Shockwave have gone to with this add-on. Shockwave have a bit of a reputation for obsessive precision when it comes to making stuff, but I think they may even have outdone themselves on this occasion. Amongst other things, the manual details the extensive access they had to a preserved airworthy P-40 at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Texas, and to be honest, it shows in the product, but we’ll get to that later.
Back with the manual, you get a potted history of the aircraft included in the package, detailed excerpts from the real thing’s flight manual, basically everything you could want short of buying a big book on the thing. Shockwave often claim with their products that you can fly the thing ‘by the book’ (you usually can too) and with these snippets from a real P-40 manual included in the pdf, you can test them on that. But, being a hard-nosed Avsim reviewer, I went one better, and bought a couple of real P-40 flight manuals, just to see how far I could push that claim! Anyway, well get to that later too.
In short, the pdf manual you get with the Shockwave P-40 is among the best you'll find; it’s comprehensive, interesting, but also has the virtue of not being over-long, and at 36 pages, it’s feasible to have a hard copy without blowing an ink cartridge on your printer. So full marks to Scott Gentile and Ted Freeman, the guys responsible for the manual. You can check out most of the manual’s content online incidentally.
What you get for your money
Shockwave chose to include two variants of the P-40 in their package, with two paint schemes for each one, however, these are actually more than simple repaints with no other changes. Care has been taken to ensure they have the correct cockpit equipment and other details specific to the aircraft portrayed.
There are some quite nice choices in the variety of aircraft in this package too. First we have what might be described as the classic P-40B, in the American Volunteer Group ‘Flying Tigers’ paint scheme of P-40B number 77, which was flown by the leader of the 3rd Squadron, Robert T Smith, when stationed at Kunming in early 1942. He downed a great many Japanese aircraft in his P-40, including numerous fighters and bombers. Smith also wrote a great book on his exploits too – Tale of a Tiger - which is well worth seeking out, not least because it has some nice pictures of this very aircraft in it. There can be little doubt that if any flying machine best suits having a snarling mouth painted on its nose, the P-40 is that aircraft.
Next up we get another P-40B, this time a veteran of Pearl Harbor; the aircraft depicted being one that was at Oahu during the attack. Having survived the initial Japanese onslaught, this aircraft was lost not long afterwards when its pilot failed to recover from a spin and it crashed in January 1942. Nevertheless, the wreckage was recovered in the late eighties, and restored to airworthy condition. It now lives at Duxford in the UK, where it sports its original paint scheme and is the oldest airworthy P-40 in existence. And very nice it is too, I’ve seen (and heard) this one fly a few times.
Then we move on to the Tomahawk IIB flown by one of the aircraft’s most famous aces, Flt Lt Clive Caldwell, who piloted this aircraft whilst serving in Libya with 250 squadron in late 1941. Caldwell had a notable adventure in the P-40 while fighting against the bf109s of JG27; Dogfighting Luftwaffe ace Lt Werner Schroer and his wingman, Caldwell was hit and wounded and his P-40 began to burn. The wounded Caldwell made a run for it and prepared to bail out, however, he guessed that side slipping his aircraft might put out the flames, tried it, and was successful. Heading back to base, he came across another pair of bf109s, which he attacked; downing one and damaging the other, rather unsurprisingly, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this action and was also promoted.
Finally we have White 58, another Tomahawk IIB, this one served with the 147th IAP – later redesignated the 20th GIAP (Guards Fighter Regiment) and was flown by Starshiy Leytenant Alexei Khlobystov. On one occasion while flying the P-40, Khlobystov was exasperated to see a bf110 refusing to go down despite he and his fellow pilots hammering the German aircraft repeatedly with gunfire. Out of ammunition and hot on the heels of the fleeing bf110 at treetop height, Khlobystov deliberately rammed the Messerschmitt’s tail with his wingtip, putting it out of control, whereupon it cartwheeled into the ground in a ball of flames. Not content with this, Khlobystov then wheeled his now damaged P-40 around to take on two bf109s which had been desperately trying to catch up to aid their comrades in the bf110. Once again the brave Russian pilot deliberately rammed one of the German fighters, severing its tail unit and again causing the German aircraft to explode in a mass of flames as it ploughed into the earth completely out of control. It’s a testament to the toughness of both Khlobystov and his P-40 that they were able to return to base. Needless to say, the man was showered with decorations and awards for his many actions of this nature.
Of the variants in the package, the most obvious difference is that the later models feature the centerline drop tank. Whilst this is reflected in the fuel capacity of the model in FSX, it’s slightly disappointing to discover that this cannot be dropped in the simulator. I hit the key to drop the tank and even got an on-screen message confirming it was gone, but on the external view it remained resolutely fixed in place. Of course this isn’t the end of the world, but I do think it might have been nice to see it go.
Other differences in the models include some stuff you might easily miss. The guns are textured differently on the non-US service variants, to reflect their different armament. It’s nice that the developers did not overlook variances such as these in their efforts at offering a wider choice with this package. There are many other similar, yet subtle changes to discover besides - different tires for example - so it’s more than just a quick and dirty repaint-fest in the set of aircraft you get, there’s a lot of care gone into their creation.
A virtual walk around…
Like any good pilot, we’ll have a quick walk-around inspection of the P-40 before we take it up for a test, and see what we have on our hands.
Right off the bat, I have to say that from a dimensions point of view, the modeling is absolutely spot-on. I know this because I did my usual trick of overlaying a screenshot of the thing over a blueprint drawing and then making the image translucent in Photoshop to see just how things lined up. Take a look at the screenshot of this and you’ll doubtless be as impressed as I was with the level of accuracy on display here.
On top of the model’s breathtakingly accurate dimensions, you have to admit that it’s superbly rendered in every other aspect too. The unlimited access to a beautifully maintained genuine P-40, which the developers enjoyed, really shows through in the texturing and detail touches. To be honest, it is a joy to behold, and short of going out and buying a real one, which would cost you considerably more than the 29 Dollars Shockwave want for this rendition, this really is the next best option. So I’m going to name the people who made this thing and painted it, as they deserve a lot of credit: Kryszto Malinowski, Robert Rogalski and Martin Catney – nice job guys.
Although it might be slightly jumping the gun, there’s another thing or two worth noting when you go on the external view, these being the sounds of the engine and the effects when it taxies. First off the sounds: Recorded from the real thing, they are spectacularly good and it’s a pleasure to listen to this thing from start up to shutdown. When you cut the throttle back to come in for a landing, the thing burbles and splutters like you’ve got a real one parked in your house and, as any old warbird fan knows, the sound is something to be savored as much as the looks. So prepare yourself for a real audio treat with this thing.
In addition to the delightful sounds when checking it out on the external view, there’s another treat in store; taxiing this thing over some grass or dirt reveals that it has custom dust animations which vary depending on what surface you are rolling over. This might seem a trivial point, but it does add a lot to the experience and is indicative of the sort of detail and observation that has gone into the making of this add-on aircraft. On top of this you have custom engine smoke animations which you can toggle with the FS smoke key. These are very subtle incidentally, but again are indicative of another really thoughtful piece of work. Might as well mention the person responsible for all those nice touches too – Scott Gentile – great job.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves too much, looking at the thing on the ground reveals that it sits very well. In common with many FS aircraft, it does suffer from the main tires not appearing to sink convincingly under the weight of the aircraft. However, it’s certainly not bad in appearance, nor is it alone in this aspect as far as FS aircraft go. It’s often the case that to attempt anything else results in some unsightly and unrealistic suspension animations when rolling over a rough surface. So this is merely an observation rather than a criticism.
Texturing on all the variants included in this package is very nicely achieved, well placed, sharp and, as far as I was able to check, historically accurate. If I want to be really picky, I can point out that most Tomahawks which served in the desert had a field modification which added another ventral cowling gill under the nose which isn’t present on the Shockwave model, but I think that would be taking rivet-counting too far. In addition to which, it would take about two seconds to do that on a repaint if it really bothered you. So what we have here is a truly excellent rendition of the P-40, which really looks the part, whatever version you choose to drive.
In the cockpit
Okay, so we’ve got ourselves a pretty aeroplane, now it’s time to get in and see what the office looks like. Make that ‘offices’ actually, as the different cockpit layouts have not been forgotten where the two variants are concerned. The most obvious difference being the two varieties of the reflector gunsight, both of which work by the way, in that you can light up the reticule if you want to fly around making ‘dakka-dakka-dakka’ noises. You do that too? Good, glad it’s not just me.
Unfortunately, the screenshots do not really do the virtual cockpit justice here. It’s every bit as well done as the exterior modeling, and it pans nice and smoothly too with TrackIR. Pretty much every switch works, and although some of that is limited by the capabilities of FSX into being just for show, everything is in the right place and moves in exactly the right way, having the exactly correct movement and correct amount of throw. There’s no 2D cockpit on this thing, which I can’t say I’m sorry about, because the virtual cockpit is marvelous. So if you like 2D cockpits, get over it - which you will by the way - when you have this virtual one to enjoy.
There is, however, also a minimized 2D instrument view which puts the main dials in a row along the bottom of the screen, but frankly, it would be a crime not to use this very pretty virtual cockpit which incidentally, has very readable and smooth instruments. This is in part thanks to a quirk of the P-40: Either side of the inverted T that is the main panel, you can see the butts of the cowling-mounted machine guns protruding into the cockpit as they do on the real thing. This forced the designers of the real P-40 to place the instruments very carefully, as a result, they all fall under your vision in a way that is hugely superior to most other WW2 fighter aircraft.
Another thing which was unlike a lot of other WW2 fighter aircraft where the P-40 was concerned, was that it actually had a one-piece wing, the top of which formed the floor of the cockpit. This feature has been modeled well on the Shockwave incarnation and adds tremendously to the feeling of being ‘in’ the aircraft sat on something solid as you look around the interior. That one-piece wing, by the way, was one of the things that made the P-40 able to take a lot of punishment.
There’s another particularly nice thing about this model too, and it does make the switches that move (but do not really do anything in the sim) a bit more fun. Take this thing up over about ten thousand feet then check out the external view and you notice the pilot has now put on his oxygen mask. This means you can flip on the oxygen regulator in the cockpit and it really seems like it might be doing something.
Incidentally, the pilot also turns to look in the direction you apply the controls to, yet another nice touch which adds to the fun. The modeling of the pilot, as you can probably see from the screenshots, is also very fine.
More bonus points for Robert Rogalski then, he being responsible for the design of this cockpit.
By the book, or buy the book…
So, now we get to drive the thing and find out if it flies as well as it looks. You’ll remember I mentioned buying the proper P-40 flight manual in order to test whether you really could fly the thing ‘by the book’ as Shockwave claim. However, one thing the online shop selling the P-40 flight manual which I bought neglected to mention, was that it was for the D and E variants of the Warhawk, which kind of scuppered my plan a bit, as technically that’s quite a different aircraft. But although the cockpit for the D and E models is different (as is the shape to some extent), aerodynamically they are still very similar, and a bit of checking around revealed that the RAF Pilot’s Notes for the Tomahawk I (P-40B) were also available. So I bought those too and used both books. You see what I mean about reviews not always being about free stuff?
In addition to all this extra documentation I found myself coughing up for, something far more important was available to assist in testing the Shockwave P-40. The real AVG pilots who fought against the Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa (Oscar) and Mitsubishi A6M (Zero) over China and Burma have written stacks of stuff about their experiences and it’s a mine of useful information. Oddly enough, this font of knowledge seems to have been missed by most aviation writers over the years and I can only assume that is why a lot of the myths about the P-40’s ‘inferiority’ and ‘obsolescence’ have been perpetuated. As it turns out, the commonly quoted ‘facts’ we often read are a load of old rubbish. The P-40 was in fact markedly superior to both the Oscar and the Zero in almost every respect apart from range.
Anyway, let’s take the Shockwave P-40 for a spin and see what she’s got...
Either following the Shockwave manual’s excerpts, or the real aircraft’s manual, you can indeed start the thing up just like the real one. Check the switches and cowling gills, get the throttle opened up and the mixture set, pump the fuel pressure up, flick the starter switch and back off the throttle once it has fired up to let it warm up at less than 1,000 rpm - just like the real thing. And as I’ve already mentioned, it sounds great when you do all this too.
Starting up the Shockwave P-40 does reveal one of the only things I could find wrong with it actually, and to be honest it was a while before I even spotted it. That is, the propeller spins the wrong way during the firing up sequence but this is only really noticeable from the outside view (which is why I didn’t spot it at first). Personally, I think from the cockpit view you’ll be too busy backing the throttle off after the engine catches to even spot it.
When I noticed the propeller rotation error, I went to the Shockwave forums to see if this had been reported and sure enough it had. They are aware of it and I daresay they’ll get around to fixing it at some point. Not that it really matters than much, it certainly doesn’t bother me, nevertheless, it is a mistake but frankly the only one I could find and it’s not even there when you’re flying, so who cares!
Taxiing the P-40 is just as tricky as it is with every other taildraggers as far as forward visibility goes. However, in lieu of having one of the ground crew sit on your wing to help you steer and keep a lookout - as they did with the real thing - we can use the external view. This is where the customized dust from the varying surfaces you roll over puts on its show, and very nice it is too. Having a sliding cockpit canopy also means you can stay ‘realistic’ if you like and lean out if you have something like TrackIR. Doing this reveals that placement of the virtual cockpit is as nicely handled as everything else on this model, with no visual anomalies cropping up.
Like the real thing, the P-40 is easy to handle on the ground, with – unlike most other ‘40s fighters - a comfortably wide track main gear. As a result, there’s none of that panic about scraping a wingtip that you get on WW2 fighters blessed with a narrow track landing gear when you give them some juice to turn around. This makes for a machine that can be taxied with confidence, the brakes will hold it with the throttle opened up and there’s little chance of nosing it over unless you get really ham-fisted. All this tallies with what I know about the real P-40, so there’s several more ticks in the excellence box for Shockwave before we’ve even put the wheels up.
Lining up on the runway for take-off is always fun and slightly nerve-jarring with an aircraft which is new to you, even a simulated one, but as it turns out this is where Shockwave score a massive hit. The real P-40 was noted for being easy to handle and it also turns out the same is true of this simulated one. Yes it feels powerful and you have to keep it in check, but it is much easier to manage this than with a simulated bf109 or Spitfire, for example.
I have to say that this aspect of the flight model impressed me hugely, it feels very ‘right’ and yet it’s actually not that hard to keep it on the centerline of the runway while you roll along building flying speed. The upshot of all this is that it looks incredibly realistic when you view a replay of yourself taking off. If you like to fly with full realism settings on but have been putting off buying an add-on warbird because they are hard to keep out of the ditches without left rudder control to keep the torque in check, then you’ll certainly like this P-40. It doesn’t do it all for you, but it certainly makes it easy to master with a rudder which is more than up to the job.
Without going into boring details on rates of climb and stuff like that, I can confirm that once the wheels are up – nicely animated incidentally – the Shockwave P-40 is bang on the money as far as normal performance goes. I tried all the recommended climb settings from both the real manual and the segments of it in the Shockwave offering, and it doesn’t disappoint in almost every aspect. I say almost, because, strictly speaking, it should yaw a little to the left in a climb and to the right in a dive. It does – correctly - yaw a little to the left most of the time, but attitude changes don’t really alter the yaw as much as they perhaps should, not a huge big deal, but not totally accurate if we are being obsessively picky. And bear in mind I am being obsessively picky here purely because this is a review and you want to know everything.
Of course we don’t just want to putter around the virtual skies like a Cessna when we fly something like this, so how close is it to the real thing if we start to get fancy?
Push the envelope and prove the real heroes right…
When pushing the Shockwave P-40 a little, flying it more like the combat aircraft it was, I found it to be pretty faithful to the real thing too. To illustrate that, and demonstrate how I tested some of this aspect, here’s a quote I found about the P-40’s performance by one of the AVG pilots who fought with it over China: ‘If the situation was reversed and the Zero was attacking you. Your roll rate would save your ass by allowing you to roll to max turning bank, use 6 "Gs" or more, then continue rolling to inverted and dive. Rolling 180 degrees to dive would take less than 2 seconds’.
By this reckoning, for the Shockwave P-40’s flight performance to be accurate, at combat effective speeds, i.e. around 300 IAS, it should perform a complete 360-degree roll in just less than four seconds. Let’s see if it does…
I performed a number of other tests similar in nature to this one, based on the stuff P-40 combat pilots have written, and the simulated version was always faithful to what I read from the guys who really flew the P-40 to its maximum. So this is impressive stuff from Shockwave in that they have got it right and ignored all the rubbish that has been written about the P-40 never being as maneuverable as the Zero.
The outer limits…
Again, contrary to what is often written, the P-40 – both real and simulated - will actually make it up to high altitude. I got it up to over thirty thousand feet, although I should point out that, like the real thing, performance does start to suffer quite a bit above eighteen thousand feet. So it is true the P-40, both in real life and simulated form, is no high altitude stunner, and to all practical intent, twenty thousand and under is where it flies best.
Anything over that height and you have to manage the mixture and trim quite carefully to keep the dials going in the right direction. In fairness to the A6M Zero, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be caught wallowing along at twenty-five thousand feet in a P-40 with a Japanese fighter crawling up my six o’clock. That said, I did a lot of the test flying for this review at airfields in FSX that were well over seven thousand feet above sea level, in hot temperatures too, and the P-40 was still sprightly enough to pull off enjoyable aerobatics, even with the power dropping off. So under twenty thousand feet, and again like the real one, it’s very handy.
One thing which I couldn’t test of course, was the reported tendency toward tail heaviness of the P-40s equipped with the drop tank when it gets jettisoned, because it seems to have been glued on, but this isn’t such a big deal in the grand scheme of things I suppose. It probably wasn’t an issue on the real P-40 anyway, as it had a good set of trim controls, as does the Shockwave offering.
However, there certainly was one thing I could test thoroughly, and that was how much of a grin it puts on your face when you indulge in a bit of airshow antics and tower buzzing. It certainly passes that test with flying colors, in fact it seems to have been made for buzzing the tower and taking screenshots. Great fun, as you can probably tell from the pictures!
Interestingly enough, as great as this aircraft looks, it seems to be quite frame-rate friendly even when you chuck it about, not sure why that is, as they definitely haven’t scrimped on the details. Not that I’m going to look a gift horse in the mouth and complain about great performance from something this pretty.
When it comes to aerobatics, this is quite a nice aircraft to play with, it’s very easy to fly precisely and rock-stable when you let go of the controls. As a result, it takes quite a lot to get it to spin – not really surprising with that big dihedral angle on the main wing. When it does finally start to auto rotate into a spin, it’s fairly vicious and you can’t hang about in recovering it, as it loses a lot of height, but it comes out of it easily enough and occasionally even does it on its own, so no worries there. Perhaps more importantly, this is much like the behavior of the real thing would be thanks to that big dihedral, so again, full marks for a very nice flight model that is both accurate and fun.
If you fly smoothly, it rewards you with the ability to try some fancy stuff without too much hard work. With this in mind, it’s time for another name check – Jerry Beckwith – responsible for the flight modeling, yet another excellent job done.
So now we have to land the thing, and as you might have guessed, with a flight model this good, setting her down is easy too. Naturally, there are some things to bear in mind, as there would be with the real one; Shockwave’s P-40 gets nose heavy with the power off for one thing. In reality this was due to the Allison engine being a dirty great big heavy lump of metal, something which Curtiss tried long and hard to counter with various weight saving measures throughout the aircraft’s production life. This feature is emulated nicely in our FSX incarnation and so you find yourself following the techniques in ‘the book’ to make a smooth touchdown. Which means another thing that endears the Shockwave P-40 is, because of the beautifully precise flight model, greasing this thing in for a perfect gentle three-pointer is a piece of cake!
Sound and vision
It’s hard to understate something really great about this model, something that you – unfortunately - can’t tell from all the screenshots in this review: All the while you have that marvelous engine sound accompanying you as you streak around the skies, or coast in for a perfect landing. It adds tremendously to what is already an astonishingly good package from Shockwave, certainly among the best audio of any simulated aircraft ever, in my opinion. And as if all that wasn’t enough, you have Shockwave’s innovative 3D lights system as part of this aircraft, which makes it just as much fun to fly when the sun goes down in your virtual world.
Okay let’s try and break it…
One last test. It seemed almost a crime to do it, but I had to test the damage model on the thing too. And so I whacked it in for a really heavy landing to deliberately collapse the landing gear, veering off the runway, through a wire fence and bending the propeller in the process. It almost made me cry to see such a beautiful thing messed up in that way, but even so, I have to admit that the damage modeling, like everything else, is great.
Conclusion - you can go your own way…
To round things off for this review, I’m going to list some more interesting facts that don’t often get repeated in aviation books, and they serve to highlight something that Shockwave have achieved with this package that is certainly worth noting above all. They’ve managed to bring us a true rendition of an aircraft that people most likely don’t realize was actually as good as this. Like me, you probably believed the usual rubbish that has been trotted out about the P-40 by aviation writers over the years. But having had the opportunity to dig a little deeper and find the truth, I know that Shockwave are right, and the majority of supposedly knowledgeable aviation historians are wrong. The P-40 was a lot better than almost everyone says…
The P-40 took two seconds to roll through 180 degrees; the Mitsubishi Zero took six seconds to do this. This of course means that the Zero would take three times as long to roll into a maximum bank angle turn as the P-40.
The P-40 was faster below 20,000 feet, by as much as thirty miles per hour, in addition to which, the P-40 could dive very much faster than the Zero, and also accelerate faster in that dive.
The P-40 could pull up to nine G without damage, whereas the Zero could only take six G before it would break up.
Above 220 IAS, the P-40 could in fact turn with the Zero and above 240 IAS it was markedly superior in almost every maneuver. The only thing P-40 pilots had to avoid was trying to turn with the Zero below 220 IAS, and they could always avoid doing this if they wanted to, because they were faster, and so dictated the rules of the engagement.
With heavier construction, better armament, full armor plate protection for the pilot and the advantage of self-sealing fuel tanks, the P-40 was much better suited to combat and field use than contemporary Japanese adversaries.
It would have been easy for Shockwave to simply follow the crowd and produce a simulation of the P-40 that merely served to continue the myths of this aircraft’s poor showing, but that’s not for them, they’ve proved once again that accuracy is their hallmark. And in following that methodology, they’ve done this aircraft a better service than perhaps anyone ever has before. You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t check it out for yourself.
So full marks all round for producing something that is really very special indeed. Although I hope the guys at Shockwave realize that doing this is going make their forthcoming FSX Mitsubishi Zero a bit of a tough sell to people who buy this P-40, and I’m sure there will be a lot of people buying this P-40 if they have any sense.
Test system for this review
The P-40 was tested on a Pentium 4 equipped PC with 2Gb of RAM, running Windows XP with an ATI PCI-X card, also on a Laptop with a dual core processor and 2Gb of RAM running Windows Vista 32 bit and standard built-in graphics card. FSX had the most recent patch available applied.
Overall test time
I tested the Shockwave P-40 for a very long time indeed, because I had to wait a long time for the manual I bought to show up! This was no hardship at all though; I really love this aeroplane.
Sources of information for this review
Manual for Curtiss P-40 Warhawk (Aviation Publications)
What I Like About The P-40
What I Don't Like About The P-40
Tell A Friend About this Review!
All Rights Reserved